WASHINGTON – Both Democrats and Republicans said President Bush on Thursday made a very compelling case to take action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and were pleased that he approached the United Nations to participate in convincing the despot to comply with U.N. sanctions.
Some lawmakers, however, said they still have questions about what the president will do next if the international body does not enforce its own rules, and expressed hesitations about going solo on military action.
"I think every time the president continues to speak out and speak to each of us, he strengthens his case. I think it was helpful. I don't think it was conclusive," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. "I don't think that the case for a pre-emptive attack has been made conclusively -- yet. That doesn't mean it can't be made."
"I think it was a good idea to challenge the U.N. to have the backbone" to enforce its own resolutions, said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
"I would hope that Iraq would understand that this is a very important venture the president has made this morning, a very important challenge to this most important of international body, and I hope they live up to it," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Even Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., who urged Bush on Wednesday not to take unilateral pre-emptive action against Saddam, said that Bush's speech was "a powerful indictment, by the United Nations' own standards, of Saddam Hussein's contempt for the world."
Bush has promised that before he takes any action against Iraq, militarily or otherwise, that he would seek congressional approval. Lawmakers have said they are uncertain about supporting unilateral action.
"To my knowledge we have never invaded or attacked" a nation without having been attacked or having its allies attacked first, Feinstein said.
Daschle has not said whether he would support a U.S. resolution for action against Iraq. Asked several times on bringing a resolution to the Senate floor, he ducked the question.
Retiring House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said that Saddam could only hope that the U.S. Senate considers a resolution.
"If it becomes necessary for Congress to vote on a resolution, then Saddam Hussein will die of old age before Senate leadership gets it on their floor," Armey said.
But Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., is anxious for a resolution, which he and colleague Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said would likely receive widespread support.
"Now I think it's vital for Congress to show the world that we back this president and we'll give him the authority he needs to protect the American people in the world community," Lott said. "We must vote to show support for the president right now. This is a question of leadership and action because there is an immediate threat."
"I would not like ... to vote ex post facto. I would think that it would be important that Congress express its will before this military buildup begins. I'm convinced there will be a much larger majority in favor than there was in 1991," McCain said in reference to the 1991 vote on the use of force against Iraq pursuant to U.N. Security Council resolutions. That bill passed 52-47 in the Senate.
Daschle said that the president must first present a resolution to Congress and must decide what kind of action that will be. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said that if the president does present a resolution, it's likely that it would be voted on before Congress finished its session scheduled for Oct. 11.
Feinstein said she would probably vote against a unilateral attack on Iraq if that was the resolution sent to Congress because she doesn't want "to solidify" Arab enmity against the United States.